One of my readers emailed me and asked: why African women are mostly neglected in conflict resolution?
In this article, I have so far tried to discuss what gender and peace connote. Now the question one may ask is what is the role of gender vis-a-vis in peace and conflict in Africa with special emphasis on Nigeria? We want to submit at this juncture that no sex male or female gender, ought to be neglected in any peace process in Africa or elsewhere. Any such neglect is to the society’s peril. Going down the memory lane, the history of Aba Women Riot of 1929 in the present day Eastern Nigeria can vividly explain the need for not neglecting any gender in decision-making process of any kind. History has it that the pre’ independent British Colonialists in Nigeria used their so-called warrant Chiefs at Oloko near Aba to count women. Because women were not considered in decision-making process information was not well spread. That led to a rumour that the counting of women in the area was purely for the primary motive of taxation of women.
This misformation led to a serious conflict that resulted in riots that were unprecedented in the history of Nigeria at the time. The riot, like a wild fire spread to places like Calabar and Opobo, where according to Crowder (1978), “on 17th December 1929, a riot of such ferocity tools place that the police opened fire on the crowd and killed 32 people, wounding a further 31”. Truly, if Aba women were duly informed before the counting was initiated, perhaps, they might not misconstrue the payment of taxation as the reason behind the counting, since the motive for counting was more or less to have an over-view of the women population in the dense area of Aba as at then. The motive could be positive to reasoning because it could help in the planning of the economy, but the carelessness, nonchalant and gross neglect and abuse of gender privilege of women with impunity made the Colonialism to overlook the involvement of Aba women in their decision-making process that led to the counting.
Women as well, can be helpful in assuaging conflicts in a polity. Let us take a look at the role played by one woman in the pre-amalgamation history of Nigeria. One Mary Siessor, a Scottish Mill Worker elated to serve the Presbyterian Mission in Calabar towards the end of the nineteenth century. Serving among the Okoyong people of the C1055 River, she became engrossed with the conversation on lives and ways of the people. Thus, she became challenged that the people were still indulging in killing of twins and human sacrifices. Not only that she lived amongst them, but ate with them and shared their life styles. Thus she “was able to persuade them of the undesirability of their practices”. With this consul she was appointed consul for Okoyong by Sir Claude Macdonald in 1890. History has it that she “worked in many different parts of the Cross River, earning the deepest respect of the people, for although she was uncompromising about these practices which she found repugnant, she had a deep love and respect for the people she was trying to convert”. This has really portrayed that women can be of useful instrument for peace in a conflict situation when taken into consideration in peace or decision-making process.
Dayo Oluyemi-Kusa argues, “Gender discrimination is one of the major causes conflict in work organisations”. She believes that logically speaking, gender insensitivity can generate “conflict of untold proportion”.
In Sierra Leone, in the build-up for that country’s constitutional election, women in that country around 1994, through an organisation began to mobilise for peace. They targeted the rebels the Military Government (Revolutionary United Front), and the international community. Jusu Sherrif captures it in these words: Women Organised, demonstrated and pushed for election also means to civilian rule and meaningful peace negotiations. They have continued to effectively intervene wherever and whenever necessary in the peace negotiations. They have continued to effectively intervene wherever and, whenever necessary in the peace process (Jusu Sheriff 1999).
Unfortunately, no matter the effect of conflict on women, “they are yet to be in the mainstream of decision-making in many sectors including peace-building” The Nigerian Civil War (1967 -70) witnessed the suffering of women in that imbroglio. They lost their children to kwashiorkor, bombs and suffered all kinds of man’s inhumanity to man occasioned by war. Yet during the peace talks they were not consulted. The so-called ‘no Victor, no vanquished’ slang as proclaimed by Gowon in 1970 did not really put women in a proper consideration. The three Rs of Gowon i.e. reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration did not actually encompass the interest of women adequately.
In Guinea and Liberia, women have organised themselves for peace and conflict resolutions. Consequently, Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MRWPN) has been formed in both Liberia and Guinea. Again Liberian Women’s Initiative (LWI), and the Association of Female Lawyers in Liberia (AFLL) have taken up the challenge in that country.
However, some decades back, women had suffered more neglects and abuses than in the contemporary era. Then, the discrimination of women was so pronounced that women could not be allowed to pursue education as their male counterparts in some African Countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea and some others. Because, the argument then was that education of women was a waste since they would marry out to another man. The Women’s education was simply limited to teaching and nursing, while such professional trainings in Law, medicine, engineering, architecture etc. was prerogative of men.
But today such notion has changed because there are preponderances of highly trained women in core professional studies mentioned above. This could be attributed to the creation of awareness among various women bodies in the form of Non-Governmental Organisations, such NGO’s have cried out loud on the discrimination of the women folk in various African Countries. Again the harsh economic realities have made it possible that any child; male or female that is intelligent should be trained by parents because academic power is a prerequisite for economic empowerment in most African countries.
Similarly, women have now taken up leadership challenges in politics and governance of their various parties. Women ministers, speakers of parliament, and Senators have gradually sprung up in various countries like Nigeria. A country like Sierra Leone has produced a female president in a democratic election. Problems still abound in some areas. Women were not allowed access to the land owned by their dead husbands or parents, as is the case in Rwanda. Women still suffer in taking care of children left fatherless because of war. Caring for such children still impacts negatively on African women. This situation is often caused by conflict, yet in post-conflict discussions, women are not often involved. More effort should be made by women bodies to reduce domestic violence against women, which results in “stress, trauma, and social disorder that emerge during and after conflict”.
Women have come a long way in fighting for gender emasculation and marginalisation of their rights and privileges. Such bodies, governmental like Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MRWIN), the Pro-femmes/Tweze Hamwe Collective in Rwanda, the Liberian Women‘s Initiative (LWI), the Association of Female Lawyers in Liberia (AFLL), the Sierra Leone Women’s Movement for Peace (SLWMP), and Women in Nigeria (WIN) have all played one kind of role or another in trying to be given participation in decision-making process in their various countries. However, they need to fight more because in as much as there is need for more empowerment of the women folk, power is not given out or dashed to anybody, male or female, concessions can be made, but there must be enabling environment for such to be made.
It is true that women suffer very well during conflicts, their male counterparts also suffer because they die in big numbers during wars. Nonetheless, women suffer more psychological traumas and emotions during and after conflicts.
Without overstressing the matter, there is a nagging need for women to be seriously involved in not only post-conflict peace-building processes, but should be taken into confidence before a decision on conflict is taken. In other words, women shall be carried along in every aspect of conflict and peace discussions, because during conflicts they suffer as men or even more than men.
With this, any decision arrived at during peace-building process can produce a lasting solution to conflict issues in a polity. The earlier this is done, the better for mankind.